Trump suggests he has power to pardon himself, baselessly accuses Comey and Clinton of crimes

All in the course of an especially bad tweetstorm.

Trump leaves the White House on Saturday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Trump leaves the White House on Saturday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The morning after the Washington Post published a bombshell report indicating Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied about why he omitted Russian contacts from his security clearance form, President Trump tweeted that “all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon,” and suggested the only crime committed during the course of the Russia scandal “so far” is leaks.

Trump’s view of his pardon power is controversial at best. While Trump does have the power to pardon others, President Nixon’s assistant attorney general determined that the president cannot pardon himself.


“Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself,” Assistant Attorney General Mary Lawton wrote, just days before Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

Trump’s claim to “complete power to pardon” suggests he takes issue with Lawton’s interpretation.

At no point during Trump’s lengthy Saturday morning tweetstorm did he express concern about Sessions’ conduct. During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, the former U.S. senator — one of Trump’s most prominent surrogates on the campaign trail — mislead his former Senate colleagues by denying he met with Russians at all during the campaign. After it emerged weeks later that Sessions had met at least twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he recused himself from the ongoing probe into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Despite his recusal, Sessions denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the meetings with Kislyak occurred in his role as a senator. But on Friday, the Post reported that Kislyak “told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general,” throwing the truthfulness of Sessions’ prior claims into question.

A statement about the story from the Justice Department doesn’t deny the Post’s reporting, but claims Sessions and Kislyak never discussed interference in the election. In March, however, Sessions denied ever discussing campaign-related matters in any capacity, saying during the news conference where he announced his recusal that “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”


At another point during his Saturday morning tweetstorm, Trump conflated the latest reporting about Sessions with former FBI Director James Comey, and baselessly accused Comey of committing a crime by allowing one of his friends to leak memos about his conversations with Trump to the press after he was fired.

But Comey’s friend denies the memos in question contained classified information (they may have been retroactively classified), and a private citizen recollecting on his conversation with the president is not a crime.

A bit later, Trump wondered why Special Counsel Robert Mueller isn’t spending his time investigating “the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes.”

Clinton was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing surrounding her email practices more than a year ago.

Trump went on to praise the transparency of his son, Donald Trump Jr., who recently published emails indicating the Trump campaign was eager to collude with agents of the Russian government to bring down Clinton. Trump Jr. released the emails only after the New York Times contacted him and told him they were working on a story.

Trump’s tweetstorm comes the morning after White House surrogates launched a media war against Mueller. During an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, Trump said that if reports about Mueller investigating his finances and the financial dealings of his family members are true, that would cross “a red line.” On Thursday, the Post reported that Trump “has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection,” while the Times broke news that Trump’s lawyers and aides “are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel [Mueller], looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused.”


Trump’s defense of Sessions on Saturday comes after the president sharply criticized his attorney general during the New York Times interview, stopping just short of asking for his resignation. Again, Trump didn’t criticize Sessions’ conduct, but blasted Sessions for creating problems for Trump.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump said. “So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president.”

During that same interview, Trump dismissed Deputy Attorney General Trump Rod J. Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe as left-leaning partisan hacks, and characterizes Mueller as having a vendetta against him because he didn’t get Comey’s job.